There are no skills shortages for an employer of choice


South Africa’s talent pool has never been healthier, and it’s clear that Russel Berman of Spark ATM Systems is not joking when he says this.

“There are no skills shortages for an employer of choice,” says Russel, Sales and Marketing Director. “It amazes me the number of times people who apply say ‘We’ve heard from our friends what a cool place Spark is to work at’.  We have never found it difficult to find talent.”

This is despite the fact that the payment systems industry itself is small. “We hire for attitude and train for skill,” he says, explaining that rather than recruit from just one or two industries, Spark likes to hire young graduates from a variety of industries. “They bring in their own ideas and fresh concepts.”

One of the qualities that makes Spark sit up and notice is a problem-solving mindset. “We look for self-starters who approach a problem with a solution. The team here know not to say, ‘I’ve got this problem, what should I do?’ Rather, it’s ‘I’ve encountered this problem and our possible solutions are x, y or z and I suggest y. Nine times out of 10, they are making the right call and this way we are encouraging sound decision making habits,” Russel says.

If a company wants to attract and retain self-starting, creative-thinking, problem-solving people it had better have the people management policies to match.

“One area where we are unique is that we pay two bonuses per year – in December and in the middle of the year, for star performers,” says Russel. These six-monthly stars are nominated by their managers, reviewed by a committee and confirmed by Spark’s executive committee.

Other components of the company’s work hard, play hard approach are gym facilities at both offices (in Cape Town and Johannesburg), regular wellness events and, pre-pandemic, weekly socials and team breakfasts every Wednesday.

With all this, and more, Spark is generally a happy, productive group of high-performing people. But just as it strives to identify and reward the top performers, the company knows there will also always be a small percentage of underperformers.

“We are always looking for the bottom 10% who need to be process-managed out of the business,” says Russel, referring to the 20-70-10 rule coined by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Good people management is, after all, not only about making the popular decisions but the hard choices too. That’s what separates a run-of-the-mill business from an employer of choice.